Melbourne’s lost reefs

Australian first project to rebuild shellfish reefs

In an Australian first, Port Phillip Bay’s shellfish reefs are being restored with the help of The Nature Conservancy. In a ground-breaking partnership with the Victorian Government, we will use cutting edge methods to restore Port Phillip Bay’s shellfish reefs, bringing all the benefits of oysters back to the bay.

Reefs at Risk
Along the southern coast of Australia lie hundreds of bays and estuaries that contain important temperate habitats, including shellfish reefs, soft corals, seagrass beds and saltmarshes. They are teeming with unique species, such as handfish, seahorses and seadragons – and their coastal fringes are a vital source of food for iconic birds like the critically endangered Orange-bellied Parrot. Plus, our bays and estuaries are nurseries for fish, they are areas of outstanding beauty and provide a natural playground for swimming, fishing and sailing.

Tragically, the health of our bays and estuaries is under threat. In fact, our recent global report, Shellfish Reefs at Risk revealed that shellfish reefs are the most threatened marine habitat on earth. Globally, 85% of oyster reefs have been completely lost and there are signs that reefs are ’functionally extinct’ in many areas, particularly in Australia.

Nature’s Water Filters
More than just a delicacy, oysters are nature’s water filter – improving water quality as they filter algae and other nutrients from the sea water. Oysters can remove an estimated 1 million tonnes of phytoplankton in their lifetime.

“Oysters are nature’s water filter – many are filtering at a rate of up to 4 to 5 litres an hour! That’s enough to fill a bathtub in a day.” Dr Boze Hancock, The Nature Conservancy Marine Restoration Scientist.

When growing as part of the reef, the oyster shells themselves provide a habitat for a range of other animals, such as small crabs, sea squirts, snails and sponges. And fish love them!

Restoring Marine Habitats
This pilot project is the first stage of our Great Southern Seascapes program, designed to restore and improve marine habitats in southern Australia, where most of the reefs have been lost. The project was initiated by Fisheries Victoria and the Albert Park Yachting and Angling Club, who noticed the loss of healthy reefs as recently as the early 1980s.

As part of the reef restoration project, native flat oysters raised at the Department of Environment and Primary Industries’ Queenscliff hatchery will be used to re-establish reefs in the Port Phillip Bay area. The first three reefs to be restored are at Geelong, Hobsons Bay and Chelsea.

“Working with a wide range of government departments, Australian scientists, fishing clubs and conservation groups, our program will focus on habitat restoration, both in the water and on the coast, and encourage local people to get involved through different volunteer activities,” said The Nature Conservancy Australia Director of Conservation, Dr James Fitzsimons.

The restoration of shellfish reefs should boost fish numbers, create more clean water and increase recreational fishing opportunities.

Click here to read the article, ‘Shellfish Reefs to be Restored in Port Phillip Bay’ featured in The Age newspaper.

To find out more about the project, click here to download a brief introduction to the project.

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